From threading to lasering, hair removal has never been so straightforward.
By Annie Hayes
The stigma of visible body and facial hair – and the social pressure of hair removal – is finally starting to become a thing of the past. There’s no denying that eliminating unwanted hair can be a pain (in every sense of the word), so if embracing the au naturale vibe feels right for you, keep rocking it.
For a variety of different reasons, however, there are still plenty of people who prefer to go fuzz-free. If that’s the case for you, there’s no shortage of hair removal options to choose from. From threading to waxing to lasering, the process of reducing or removing unwanted hair has never been so straightforward.
Ready to get to the root of hair removal? We asked Aimee Piper, senior aesthetician at Vie Aesthetics, and Aleksandra Tichy, senior aesthetician at Primas Medispa, to talk us through the many hair removal methods available in 2021, from cheap, short-term fixes to pricier long-term treatments:
12 effective hair removal methods
The average human has approximately five million hair follicles, and they cycle through four distinct stages, from initial growth to eventual shedding. The time spent in each of these cycles differs depending on where the hair is located on your body – for example, the cycle of an eyebrow hair is far shorter than a scalp hair. This is important, since it dictates how long-lasting each hair removal method is.
The average human has approximately 5 million hair follicles, and they cycle through 4 distinct stages, from initial growth to shedding.
No matter which hair removal method you choose, you’ll need to repeat it for lasting results. ‘Permanent hair removal after one course of treatment is a myth,’ says Piper. ‘Hair reduction is a more realistic objective. If you wish to remain smooth and hair free, maintenance and top-ups are key. This is due to a number of life factor changes, including hormonal changes that can re-trigger hair growth at different stages in our lives.’
Read on to discover 12 of the most effective hair removal options:
1) IPL (intense pulsed light)
You might’ve spotted home IPL hair removal devices in the electric beauty aisle before. IPL uses broad-spectrum light, which covers a broad area of the skin (like the light from a torch). It works by targeting melanin, a pigment in hair follicles, which absorbs light from the flashes. ‘As the light is absorbed, the bulb and most of the hair follicle is heated and destroyed,’ explains Piper.
This traumatises the follicle and interrupts its life cycle. ‘When effective at the the right stage of growth, the hair cell will be affected and weakened,’ she says. ‘The hair shaft shrinks as a result and therefore it can slides and fall out of the hair follicle, or it is consumed by the body over time.’
✅ Pros: Minor side effects, no ingrown hairs, convenient, can be cost-effective, long-lasting results.
❎ Cons: Less effective (and longer process) than laser hair removal, not suitable for dark skin tones, doesn’t work on fair hair.
2) Laser hair removal
In laser hair removal treatments, a diode (or Nd:YAG) laser beam penetrates your skin and targets the pigmented hair follicle, Piper explains. ‘The laser beam heats the life cell of the unwanted hairs, to disrupt, thin and weaken it – similar to IPL,’ she says. If IPL is like a torch, laser hair removal is like a laser pen. It’s more targeted.
‘Even the most stubborn of hairs are affected during laser hair removal, but it’s important to use the right device for different skin types to avoid adverse reactions and skin damage,’ says Piper. ‘Safety protocols, training and experience of practitioners are things you need to research before you proceed, and patch tests are a must.’
✅ Pros: Minor side effects, no ingrown hairs, precise, effective, long-lasting results. Nd:YAG laser is suitable for dark skin tones.
❎ Cons: Expensive, long process, doesn’t work on fair hair, must avoid sunlight before and after treatment.
Waxing works by removing the entire hair from the root. The wax is applied in the same direction as hair growth, and removed in the opposite direction of hair growth. There are two types – hot wax and warm wax – and they have slightly different methods.
‘Hot wax is applied directly onto the skin and left to harden and pulled directly off the skin,’ Tichy explains. ‘This type of wax is used mainly for sensitive areas. Warm wax is applied directly onto the skin with a spatula, then quickly removed with strips.’
✅ Pros: Lasts for anywhere between two and six weeks, exfoliates skin, reduces overall hair growth over time, instant results.
❎ Cons: Very painful, itches when hair grows back, can cause ingrown hairs, requires regrowth period to be effective.
This hair removal method involves inserting an ultra-thin probe into each individual hair follicle and sending an electric current through it. ‘The current damages the root of the hair, causing it fall out and preventing new hair from growing,’ says Piper. Electrolysis is the only truly method of permanent hair removal.
✅ Pros: Effective for all skin types, skin colours, hair types, and hair colours. Can be used anywhere on the body.
❎ Cons: Extremely painful, often need many sessions for full hair removal, can’t cover large areas in one session.
An epilator is an electrical device that plucks hair out as you move it over your skin. It looks a little like an electric razor and is fitted with rotating tweezers. There are two different types: a dry epilator, which can be used without water, and a wet epilator, which can be used in the bath or shower. A wet epilator may be less painful, as the warm water opens your pores – loosening hair follicles, so they can be removed easily.
✅ Pros: Lasts for anywhere between two and six weeks, works on all types of hairs, hairs grow back shorter and finer over time, can be used anywhere on the body, more precise than waxing.
❎ Cons: Painful, risk of broken hairs that may become ingrown or infected if used incorrectly.
Much like waxing and epilating, threading works by removing the entire hair from the root. ‘The practitioner uses twisted cotton thread to remove a few hairs at a time,’ says Tichy. ‘Threading requires a lot more skill than waxing, so it’s not a home treatment. Typically threading happens in a spa or salon and it’s performed by a certified aesthetician.’
✅ Pros: Gentle on the skin, no chemicals or harsh ingredients, very precise, can be used on short or fine hair, instant results.
❎ Cons: Not suitable for large areas as it would be too time-consuming.
Sugaring, or sugar waxing, works by the same principal as waxing: pulling the hair from the root. Unlike wax, the sugaring paste – a sticky gel made from sugar, water and lemon – doesn’t stick to your skin. It’s applied in the opposite direction as hair growth, and removed in the same direction of hair growth with a series of quick, short pulls.
Unlike wax, sugaring paste doesn’t stick to your skin. It’s applied in the opposite direction as hair growth.
✅ Pros: Causes less irritation than waxing, no chemicals or harsh ingredients, environmentally-friendly, reduces hair growth over time, instant results.
❎ Cons: Painful, though less painful than waxing. Tends to be more expensive than waxing.
The most straight-forward hair removal technique, shaving is one of the most ubiquitous hair removal options because it’s so convenient. The key to a smooth shave? Aside from exfoliating the area before you unleash your razor onto it, shaving in the direction your hair grows – not against it – will keep pesky razor burn, bumps and ingrown hairs at bay.
✅ Pros: Inexpensive, painless, easy to do, instant results, can be used anywhere on the body.
❎ Cons: Doesn’t last very long, nicks and cuts are common, can cause ingrown hairs.
9) Hair lightener
Bleaching reduces the appearance of hair, rather than remove it completely. It’s especially useful for treating fine, dark hairs on the arms, face and neck. Hair lightener generally lasts between two and four weeks, depending on how fast your hair grows.
✅ Pros: Inexpensive, painless, convenient, no skill needed, instant results.
❎ Cons: Doesn’t actually remove hair, requires patch test, may not be suitable for dark skin tones, unsightly regrowth.
10) Hair removal cream
Hair removal creams, commonly known as depilatories, break down the structure of keratin – the main protein in your hair. This weakens and dissolves it, resulting in silky-smooth skin within minutes. The top layer of your skin also contains keratin, so you should never leave hair removal cream on for longer than the packet instructs you to.
✅ Pros: Inexpensive, painless, convenient, no skill needed, instant results, lasts longer than shaving, less chance of ingrown hairs.
❎ Cons: Doesn’t last very long, unpleasant smell, not suitable for all body parts, requires skin test.
11) Electric trimmers and shavers
Like razors, electric trimmers and shavers slice hair at the skin level rather than removing the entire follicle. There are different options available depending on which body part you’re using them for. You can buy body trimmers that are specifically designed for your underarms, bikini line, top lip, ears, etcetera – or plump for a one-size-fits-all electric shaver, which typically comes with interchangeable attachments for different areas.
✅ Pros: Quick, effective, painless, convenient, no skill needed, instant results, cause less ingrown hair and razor bumps than razors.
❎ Cons: Can be expensive, needs maintaining – blades will need replacing. Results are not long-lasting.
12) Hair V Go
The newest hair removal method on this list, Hair V Go tackles vellus hairs – ‘the fine, downy, light-coloured hairs that appear all over the top layer of skin’ says Piper. ‘They are often referred to as “peach fuzz”, owing to the fuzzy effect they can create. This hair has a different composition to other types of face and body hair.’
The treatment sees an alkaline paste applied to the skin, which dissolves the keratin in the hair. ‘The effects from treatments are both gradual and cumulative, meaning that results will become more and more noticeable with each session,’ she says. ‘Typically, once you have reached your desired goals, you will only need several maintenance sessions a year.’
✅ Pros: Painless, effective, no risk of scarring, burning, ingrown hairs or hyperpigmentation.
❎ Cons: Expensive, requires ongoing treatments, only suitable for vellus hair.